Technology

Lok Sabha passes cable digitisation bill

NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha today passed the second Bill to amend the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 that aims to replace the Ordinance promulgated in October.


Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, while talking on the discussion on the Bill, assured the cable operators that they would not be "put out of business" contrary to fears expressed by some quarters with digitisation of cable services, and capacity building programmes would be held to apprise them with new technologies.


Soni said that an enabling provision had put in place to the effect that only Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000 would be needed by cable operators to move to digitisation.


She said digitisation would give a true assessment of the subscriber base of the broadcasters and reduce dependence on advertisements. In turn, this may also lead to reduction in the vulgar content on television channels as there would be lesser dependence on TRPs.


Apart from improving the quality of reception, digitisation would also empower the viewers and the cable operators. It will enable cable operators to give larger number of channels to the consumers. There will be no prime band after digitisation, she said.


She said the Bill would plug revenue leakage and enable regulatory agencies to check illegal content.


Soni said that with the passing of this Bill, the Headend-in-the-sky (HITS), which had so far failed, would take off with greater investments.


She also said that there were punitive clauses against cable operators, MSOs or DTH operators who failed to show the must-carry channels, including the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels.


While most members supported the Bill, they cautioned the government against exploitation of the common viewer in the form of unjustifiable hikes in the cable rates and vulgar and misleading advertisements.


The Bill will now go to the Rajya Sabha for passing and then go to the President for her assent after which it becomes law.


The Bill aims to digitise the cable sector in the country by 31 December, 2014. The Government had earlier announced a timetable for complete digitisation of cable television in the four metros by 31 March, 2012, but this was put off to June 2012 in a notification issued subsequently. The target date for completely digitising cable sector in cities with population of more than one million was 30 March 2013, all urban areas by 30 September 2014, and the whole country by 31 December 2014.


This will also mean an end to the analogue era and customers of cable networks must have a digital addressable set-top-box irrespective of whether they wish to receive free-to-air or encrypted (pay) channels.


The delay for two months is because the Government had laid down in the Ordinance that promulgated earlier this month that six months notice will be given to the cable TV operators to enable them to install the necessary equipment for transmitting encrypted channels through a digital addressable system, in keeping with the deadlines set for this purpose for various states and cities.


A clause has been inserted in the Act to make a digital addressable system mandatory in the cable sector.


The amending Bill also has provisions for right of way and systemisation for registration of cable operators, inspection of cable services, compulsory transmission of certain channels, prescription of interference standards by the government and an enabling provision for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to lay down the basic service tier and its tariff.


After digitisation, all cable operators carry encrypted signals only through digital set top boxes in accordance with the deadlines that have been notified.

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